Check It Out Category: Literary

Book Discussion Questions: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Dovekeepers book coverTitle:  The Dovekeepers
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Page Count: 505 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-provoking, Haunting

Summary:
In 70 CE, 900 Jews held out against armies of Romans on a mountain in Masada. According to an ancient historian, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic event, Hoffman weaves a tale of four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Who was your favorite character and why?

Yael’s Story

2. What had Yael’s life been like when we first meet her?

3. Why was her red hair so important?

4. What does Yael do to break free of Sia and her attempts to ruin her pregnancy? Do you think that acts of contrition have power?

5. Yael says of Ben Simon that of all the people he murdered, he did his best work on me. What did she mean? Why did she then remember him with love?

6. Yael’s father says that he sees her mom when he looks at her, but he treats her horribly. Shouldn’t this have made him more loving?

7. Why did Yael see her pregnancy as a gift instead of another burden in her sad life?

8. What about the Man from the North? Why was he important to the story?

Revka’s (the Baker’s Wife) Story

9. Her story opens with sorrowful looking back. She says, “I didn’t understand what the wind was capable of and how we must bow before it, grateful no matter where it takes us.” What has happened to her?

10. Hoffman does not hold back the details in the rape and torture scene of Zara. Why might the author have made this choice? What was your reaction?

11. Yoav becomes the Man from the Valley, apparently driven by his sorrow to distance himself from his sons and court death in battle. Revka seems to understand. What was your response to how he chose to deal with his grief?

12. It seems like a generous thing that Revka would have breathed her daughter’s soul into the mouth of her husband. Why then, does she call it the 2nd worse thing a mother could do?

13. How does she get back the voices of Noah and Levi?

Aziza’s Story

14. If Rebekah could have truly changed her gender, do you think she would have, or was it the things that men were able to do that she wanted?

15. Do you think she was blessed because she had such unique abilities or was it a burden for her?

16. Rebekah has four key men in her life. Who was most influential? Did any of them really love her?

17. What does withholding her given name say about the power of a name?

18. How would you describe Rebekah based on her relationship with her sister and brother?

19. The Man from the Valley was able to love Aziza because she was a boy. How did this thinking make sense to both of them?  Was he good for her?

20. Did Amram deserve the death he received?

Shirah’s (the Witch of Moab) Story

21. Would the story have been better without the element of magic?

22. What did you think of Shirah’s all-consuming love for Eleazor? Was he her equal?

23. She leaves Moab. What did you think of her decision?

24. Chana says you can’t have my husband and Shirah replies, “I’ve had him all along?” Powerful sentence, but it is true? What did she have?

25. In the end, was Shirah’s death a failure or a triumph?

General Questions

26. Do you have a new awareness of what daily life or warfare must have been like?

27. How did the women relate to God?

28. Were you surprised at the intertwining of superstition, magic ritual, and religious belief? Does that take away from their faith experience?

29. Were any of the father figures in this book reliable? Do you think this book was fair to men?

30. Hoffman has said that she bases her works on fairy tales because she appreciates their emotional truths, the lessons they teach about human nature, love and hatred. What seemed fairy tale-like to you? Do you agree that fairy tales teach valuable lessons?

31. Based on this story, what does Hoffman seem to believe about romantic love? Is it a positive thing?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

book review from The Washington Post
video:  How I Wrote [The Dovekeepers]: An Exclusive Interview with Alice Hoffman
audio or transcript: A Tale of Forgiveness from the Tragedy of the Masada via NPR
Masada description, photos, and maps via UNESCO
discussion guide from the publisher
additional questions from Southfield Public Library

READALIKES:

Secret Chord book coverThe Secret Chord
by Geraldine Brooks

Antagonists book coverThe Antagonists
by Ernest K. Gann

Women book coverThe Women
by T. C. Boyle

Staff Pick: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Dan from Building Services suggests A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Tale of Two Cities book coverCharles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities combines a colorful mixture of history, adventure, and romance set to the backdrop of the French Revolution. The story revolves around 3 characters: Lucie, a British girl of French descent, her lover Charles, a French nobleman seeking asylum from the bloody revolution, and their friend Sydney, a banker who harbors a secret love for Lucie.

Dickens summons up multiple emotions in the reader as Charles is forcefully extradited back to France in order to stand trial for his family’s crimes. This novel is sure to inspire wonder and horror as the author masterfully depicts this tale of love amidst one of the most unsettling times in French history.

Book Discussion Questions: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop book coverTitle:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author:  Willa Cather
Page Count: 297 pages
Genre: Historical FictionClassic, Inspirational Fiction
Tone:  Contemplative, Unassuming, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In 1851 French Bishop Latour is dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, he spreads his faith the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How would you describe the mood of this book? Did you like it?

2. How does the Prologue set the scene for the story? What attitudes and themes does it foreshadow?

3. Describe the friendship between Jean Latour and Joseph Valliant. How essential is their relationship to the book as a whole?

4. Magdalena’s story is one of the more memorable in their early travels, and she then recurs throughout the book. What impact does her character have on the priests? On the reader?

5. Is this a Catholic book? What does it have to say about the greater theme of faith?

6. Are there aspects of religion (or those who profess to be religious) that are portrayed in a negative light?

7. Was the mission of the priests one of service, conversion, or something else? Did they make a difference?

8. What does Latour have in common with the ideal of the Western hero? What is different?

9. Some readers have trouble with Latour due to his lack of passion and sometimes even coldness. Is this how he struck you?

10. When deciding whom to appoint, it is said

The new vicar must be a young man, of strong constitution, full of zeal, and above all, intelligent. He will have to deal with savagery and ignorance, with dissolute priests and political intrigue. He must be a man to whom order is necessary – as dear as life.

      What do you think of these qualities? Were the Cardinals right? Are there others that proved to be necessary in the position?

11. How would you characterize the ways in which the priests interacted with their communities? With individuals? Was there anything that you think they should have done differently?

12. Did you respond to the vivid descriptions of settings, of landscape, of nature? Were there any that stood out especially?

13. In what ways are art and architecture a theme in the book?

14. What was the prevailing attitude toward Americans? Was this justified?

15. What did you think of Cather’s decision to use several historical names and figures in her story? Does this add credibility? Distract?

16. What instances of humor did you find in the book?

17. How satisfied are you with the title? Why do you think it was chosen?

18. Would you say this is an easy book to read? How difficult is it to describe or summarize?

19. Cather considered this book to be her best and most important. Do you agree? Even if you haven’t read other works, do you see significance?

20. Cather once wrote, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the quotation, ‘The end is nothing, the road is all.'” What do you think of that statement in general? Is this sentiment effectively illustrated by Death Comes for the Archbishop?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Death Comes for the Archbishop as one of All-TIME 100 Novels
Willa Cather biography
The Protestant Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Catholicism
Cather draws attention to New Mexico history
Footsteps: Entering the World of Willa Cather’s Archbishop (via The New York Times)
Discussion questions from the Classics Reading Group of Algonquin Area Public Library

READALIKES:

Crossing Purgatory book coverCrossing Purgatory
by Gary Schanbacher

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

Audiobook: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mue

Behold The Dreamers book coverLife is brimming with potential for Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga and his family. Set in New York in 2007, Jende has just gotten a new job chauffeuring for the rich, white Edwards family and his wife Neni is on her way to becoming a pharmacist. Their journeys are about to get harder however, as they face the realities of living in a new country on the brink of recession and the Edwards family’s own hardships start to bleed into their lives.

Prentice Onayemi is the versatile narrator of this 2016 debut, changing tones and cadences to take on the different characters’ accents and genders to fully bring the characters alive. A story simultaneously of hope and heartbreak,  Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is all about the turbulence of trying to achieve your dreams no matter where you reside in life.

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project

Hogarth Series book covers

Considering that 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, it is nothing short of remarkable that his plays not only are still read and appreciated but also have resonance for us today. The Hogarth Shakespeare Project, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, has invited award-winning and bestselling novelists to put their own spin on several of these enduring tales. Upcoming releases include works by Jo Nesbø, Tracy Chevalier, Edward St. Aubyn, and Gillian Flynn, but you can read these inventive takes on the Bard right now:

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold  by Jeanette Winterson

A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out.

Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology, and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a tale of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

 

Hag-Seed book coverHag-Seed: The Tempest Retold  by Margaret Atwood

Felix, whose productions have amazed and confounded, is at the top of his game as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His planned staging of The Tempest not only will boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan.

Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Shylock Is My Name book coverShylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold  by Howard Jacobson

The most provocative character in Shakespeare, Shylock finds his present-day counterpart in art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. Already grieving his beloved wife, he cannot reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s betrayal of her family and heritage in choosing to be with a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters.

Vinegar Girl book coverVinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold  by Anne Tyler

Kate is a socially awkward young woman, adored by the preschool children she teaches but misunderstood by her peers. Her father is a scientific genius, but not so great on emotions. About to lose his (equally genius, equally socially inept) research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, because of visa problems, and desperate to save the project that is his life’s work, he comes up with a plan: Kate will marry Pyotr who will then be able to stay in the country and finish the project. The plan sounds perfect, except for one small hitch: Kate.

 

Book Discussion Questions: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim book coverTitle:  Kim
Author:  Rudyard Kipling
Page Count: 230 pages
Genre: Classic, Adventure, Espionage
Tone:  Dramatic, Atmospheric

Summary:
Kim, the poor orphaned son of an Irish soldier stationed in India, searches for his identity and learns to move between the two cultures, becoming the disciple of a Tibetan monk while training as a spy for the British secret service.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Describe this boy Kim that we meet — not what happened to him, but what is he like? How would you describe his character, his personality, his passions? What gives you that impression?

2. Does Kim change throughout the novel? Would you say he grows up, or does he remain a boy?

3. This is sometimes generalized as a boys’ adventure story. What appeal would it have for readers who enjoy those tales?

4. At its most basic structure, Kim might be described as a quest story. How is this true? Whose quest(s) are explored? Are there multiple journeys being explored?

5. Kim is widely considered a masterpiece of children’s literature. Who might the audience be now? Would you give it to a student? Recommend it to a certain type of reader for leisure?

6. Another way to characterize the novel may be as a tale of friendship. Describe the relationship that grows between Kim and the lama.

7. The fact that they are on the road provides opportunity to weave in and out of other places, people, and scenarios. Is this done effectively? Which scenes made the strongest impact?

8. How would you describe Kipling’s India as described in the novel — geographically, demographically, politically, ideologically?

9. You may have noticed that significant passages are devoted to describing the many peoples and cultures that make up India. Did these have the ring of authenticity? Were they stereotypical or biased? Did you obtain a sense of all facets: rich, poor, cities, temples, etc.?

10. In Kipling’s time, why do you think English readers were fascinated by portrayals of “exotic” British colonies like India? Can you think of any modern counterparts for our day?

11. This is overwhelmingly a male novel. Who are the female characters that you can recall? What perspectives does the way women are characterized expose? Would you rather have women be absent than to be portrayed in this way?

12. Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 (Kim was published in 1901). His commendation read, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. Which of these qualities are evident in Kim?

13. What may make this a challenging work for modern readers? Has writing changed? Have readers changed?

14. Kipling portrays the imperialist presence in India as unquestionably positive, even presenting an ideal India that is not divided by imperialism but rather is unified by it. Where do we see this? Do you think this accurate?

15. Is it fair to be offended by cultural attitudes that were accepted as fact at that time? Should that color our experience as we read today?

16. A thematic motif is the search for Enlightenment. How were the lama’s ideals presented? Do you recall any specific encounters, challenges, or advancements of his faith?

17. What role did Kismet play in Kim’s life?

18. How is war and/or military operations characterized? Should we be at all uncomfortable with the references to, as one example, the Great Game?

19. Two literary terms applied to stories with a focus on a certain character are
             Picaresque: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character
             Bildungsroman: novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
Does either apply here? Do both?

20. Would you call the ending a happy one? A satisfying one? What might you have hoped differently?

21. In spite of the challenges you might have had in reading Kim, did anything surprise you pleasantly? What were some of the high points?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kim featured in The Guardian‘s list of 100 best British and American novels
Kim as comfort reading?
American Thinker: On the Greatness of Kipling’s Kim
Rudyard Kipling biography
The Kipling Society webpage
The New York Times: Lahore as Kipling Knew It
BBC News: the controversy of Kipling’s Indian Legacy

READALIKES:

Sea of Poppies book coverSea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh

Road to Samarcand book coverThe Road to Samarcand
by Patrick O’Brian

Baudolino book coverBaudolino
by Umberto Eco

List: Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence 2017 Longlist

September brought the 2017 longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction & Nonfiction. The Andrew Carnegie Medals are especially notable because winners are chosen by library professionals, similar to the Newbery award for children’s literature. This results in the ultimate to-read list for the year in adult fiction and non-fiction! Take a look at some of the books that stood out below:

perfume-river book coverPerfume River
by Robert Olen Butler
the-sport-of-kings book coverThe Sport of Kings
by C.E. Morgan
christodora book coverChristodora
by Zadie Smith

 

the-firebrand-and-the-first-lady book coverThe Firebrand and the First Lady
by Patricia Bell-Scott
behold-the-dreamers book coverBehold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
the-angel-of-history book coverThe Angel of History
by Rabih Alameddine

 

city-of-thorns book coverCity of Thorns
by Ben Rawlence
mister monkey book coverMister Monkey
by Francine Prose
mad-enchantment book coverMad Enchantment
by Ross King

 

Make sure to take a look at the full list of books chosen. The six finalists (three for fiction and three for nonfiction) will be announced October 26, 2016!

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Staff Pick: Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

Picture of LarryBlasphemy includes some of Sherman Alexie’s classic short stories along with newer tales. The stories challenge the reader’s comfort zones with plots exploring race and ethnicity, culture, stereotypes, alcoholism, diabetes, and personal identity. The settings are in the Pacific Northwest with Native American protagonists. The expertly crafted stories are personal, revealing the characters for who they are and what influenced their lives, making them seem real and reflecting life as it truly is for many.

Staff Pick: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Marisa from Collection Management suggests The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

the master and margarita book cover

Take everything you thought you knew about 20th century Russian literature, throw it out the window, and read The Master and Margarita. It’s a riotous magical-realist tale about the devil and his minions, who go down to Moscow in the 1930s to cause mischief. What ensues is a wild and witty novel involving witches, poets, star-crossed lovers, talking cats, and several buildings catching fire. It’s the kind of book that is not only impossible to put down, but will leave you pacing around your house with the book still in your hand. If all that isn’t enough, it’s also Daniel Radcliffe’s favorite novel. In other words, The Master and Margarita has everything worth loving in a book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

If you are interested in Master and Margarita, try…

Rapture of the Nerds book cover

Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross is a wild sci-fi novel. In a world where the downloaded minds of humans enjoy playing pranks on those of us who still retain our physical form, Huw is called up for “tech jury duty”: judging whether the inventions sent to Earth from our posthuman neighbors are safe enough to use. He has no idea of the crazy things that will happen or of the hero he will become.

Into the Beautiful North book cover

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea is the tale of the small Mexican town of Tres Camarones. All of the men have long since deserted the town to find work in the United States, and a group of bandits have taken advantage of their absence. Inspired by classic Western movies, a teenage girl named Nayeli and her friends decide to venture across the border, find the men of Tres Camarones, and free their town.

Memories of the Future book cover

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is a collection of short stories set in 1920s Moscow. In a uniquely surreal style, Krzhizhanovsky tells the story of a man who makes his room grow with disastrous consequences, a traveler who gets on a train to the land of dreams, and many other equally weird occurrences.

Against the Day book cover

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon is a magical-realist epic that spans many years during the turn of the 20th century, with its variety of characters passing sideways to real events to make a story all their own. It’s a novel that seems like a collection of unreal, disjointed events, but in a way is more real than reality itself.